Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

As I coyly mentioned last week in my post on Richmond, we did some big things in and amongst the little things we did. One of those big things was visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which was quite an experience!

Having alighted from the train and had our fill of Chinese food, my super amazing girlfriend and I proceeded directly to the museum. She has the habit of looking things up beforehand, so maybe she wasn’t impressed, but I was extremely impressed by the size of the museum and the breadth of the museum’s collection. Not that the state of Virginia, of which we are both at this point proud(ish) citizens, isn’t impressive or anything, but who woulda thunk that Virginia would have put together such a gigantic art museum? The art ranged from contemporary to ancient, and from lifelike portraits to impressionist to beyond. For dedicated art lovers I recommend several trips; much like my experience at the Yale University Art Gallery the collection is so wide-ranging that it becomes overwhelming to one’s aesthetic sense.

One thing I especially liked about the museum is that it very much felt like a community space. Admission is free for everyone (though there are certain exhibits that have a separate admission) and there is wifi, so there were people clearly just hanging out and doing work or whatever while absorbing all the culture. The picture above is of the courtyard/sculpture garden space they have right outside the museum, and the photo fails to portray how many people there were just milling about enjoying the space. There were families with little kids, skateboarders practicing their tricks, and at least one man eating out of a bucket of fried chicken while his girlfriend looked a little bored (not me, to be clear, with the chicken).

Having wandered in without plan or indeed a map, the first wing we perused was some more contemporary art. The one contemporary piece of artwork I am going to show you as a representative sample is the above Horseman by Cynthia Carlson from 1974 (maybe half a century ago isn’t so contemporary). My photo doesn’t do it justice but the paint in this piece of artwork is thick like frosting, literally applied with cake-decorating tools as a comment on “women’s work.”

Other notable artworks were some modern-day masters, such Sisters (Susan and Toni) by Barkley Hendricks (VMFA frustratingly doesn’t appear to have an online catalog of their collections) and a sculpture of Paul Mellon’s head that looked like I imagine it would if place on a spike; he got this treatment due to donating a lot of money, it appears. Besides these galleries we also saw a collection of works by the Fabergé workshop, including several eggs, works on paper that meant, in this case, gorgeous Japanese woodblock paintings, and a huge hall of Egyptian art, including the obligatory dead guy the morals of which we won’t go into because we got other things to talk about.

Again, since I don’t read things, it was my girlfriend that informed me that the VFMA is known for its very large collection of African art. The picture above captures one small portion of a very large gallery arranged largely by geographic location of the arts’ origin. The gallery is kind of hidden in the back of the museum and it took us a bit to find it, but it is certainly worth a look. I won’t discuss the artificial distinction between “Egyptian” and “African” art, but within the African art section they had a range of religious and ceremonial objects and even things like iron currency.

However man this museum seems like, five years behind the curve when it comes to restitution and deep thinking about African art. If they didn’t seem like such sincere and nice people I would think they were courting controversy. For example, the sign they have by the door of the African art wing proudly proclaims that they are actively trying to acquire “rare works from antiquity,” which, I know what they mean, but man maybe read the room guys. In the above photo on the left is a statue of Maximilien Balot, who was killed in response to the cruel treatment perpetrated by the Belgian colonial administration. The statue was likely created as a way to immobilize his spirit. I don’t know if the controversy had erupted at the time, and I took the picture just because I hadn’t run into anything exactly like it before, but man it is a whole thing. And then, of course, they proudly display their de rigueur Benin bronze, even at a time when we are firmly on the side of restitution. After I visited the National Museum of African Art and wrote about it, next thing you know the Smithsonian is working to return their Benin bronzes, so maybe I can make some changes here too. The plaque next to the VFMA’s doesn’t even mention why this bronze no longer decorates the royal court in Benin City.

Overall the VFMA is a very nice museum and well worth a visit. It is a wonderful community space and I am very glad people are able to access all the culture and history it collects. I know I like to complain about these things but you gather enough of another people’s culture under a roof and you are going to run into problems of equity and historical wrongs that require contemporary solutions. But man you should make sure you are making an effort towards righting those historical wrongs before saying you want to buy more of them.

Richmond

Last weekend, both as I write this and per the inaccurate time of publication, my super amazing girlfriend and I went to Richmond. There were several reasons we went to Richmond. I think first and foremost because my super amazing girlfriend read an article about going there by train from DC. The second is that we are both a fan of train travel, so having read about the train thing we of course had to give it a try. The third is the fact that we are both now proud Virginians, so it made sense to see the seat of our government and contemplate yelling at the anti-mask brigade there.

It was a lovely train ride! The most harrowing part was getting to the train via DC’s other train system, the metro, which I love but is suffering from a lack of preventative maintenance right now, the poor thing. But we made it and I read while Krista read and then also knit. Unfortunately the train to Richmond doesn’t deposit you in Richmond but outside of Richmond, and it being lunchtime we hunted for nourishment in the cold and wind-swept plains of the Staples Mills strip malls. We found a Chinese place with quick and reasonably priced fare and, having prepared ourselves both body and soul, caught a ride into the beating heart of Richmond.

Small-W wontons.

During our time in Richmond we did several big things, which I shall detail in the coming weeks as part of my ongoing efforts to milk my life experiences for content. Truly I am the first person to ever do this so please be patient on this journey of discovery together. In this blog post I shall detail some of the smaller things we did in and amongst the big things.

Big-W Wonton

Perhaps the best of these small things was visiting Chop Suey books. Having really hit it out of the park in Charlottesville it is now Our Thing to go to book stores and yarn stores when we go travelling. Unfortunately Richmond has a dearth of yarn stores, which might honestly be the root cause of some of this state’s political troubles, and only a slightly more accessible selection of used book stores. Chop Suey was the only one we wound up at, but quality made up for numbers. The most significant discovery here was made when my super amazing girlfriend reported to me that there was a fake cat on the chair in the children’s section. I went to investigate and marveled at the realistic paws on the fake cat, and then was even more impressed with the realistic simulated breathing, and then utterly floored when the cat moved its head and turned out to be real. The cat was named Wonton and from all accounts completes his myriad duties as a bookstore cat, i.e. napping in various locations, with aplomb.

From the bookstore we proceeded to our hotel, which was fancy enough that the wifi was not free but had a fairly expansive view of the river. Inspired, we got a closer view of the river by proceeding to walk eastbound down the canal along the aptly named canal walk. Richmond has made the walk along the canal very nice, and although it was a bit chilly as we explored (not Richmond’s fault) that meant we had it largely to ourselves. We walked along it for several locks and we both enjoyed spotting various pieces of infrastructure along the way. If you’re a fan of infrastructure they have plenty to see, from flood control walls to train trestles to draw bridges, not including of course the canal itself. A lovely dinner capped off the night and we returned to our hotel to be energized for the following day.

Infrastructurrrrrrrrrrre

We used that energy the following day to once again explore the canal. This time we proceeded westbound, on our way to (not the ruin the surprise) the American Civil War Museum. As picturesque as the eastern portion of the canal is, the western portion tops it for sure. This is not least because there are a lot more pictures, painted on the walls of various former structures. It also deposits you at a bridge you can take across the river, which is a wonderful thing in and of itself but also provides impressive and informative views of the whole area. Once a historian friend of mine told himself off for saying that one location had any more history than another, but in this case you can see a lot of the history in this location via various old bits of (you guessed it) infrastructure. Plus it was sunny and just generally a nice place to be. There were also monuments.

After doing a few more big things, and also there were elaborate waffles at one point, and secret sandwiches at another, we head back out from town, caught our train in the nick of time, and deposited ourselves at the food of the mysterious temple to George Washington that is perhaps Alexandria’s most famous landmark, we walked home to our cat who we assured ourselves missed us very much. We had certainly missed her but it is sometimes nice to get away from the kids and see a new little corner of the world. I suspect we’ll be back to Richmond at some point; there were bookstores we didn’t get to see.

Tink! 2!

Reading this week:

  • The Mute’s Soliloquy by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

This post is a special request from my only and most loyal reader, my super amazing girlfriend. You all will recall the wonderful day that I put up my first post about the world’s most wonderful cat, Tink! This is a follow-up post to let you all know how she is doing!

She is doing quite well! Back when I wrote the first post we had only had Tink for like a week or two, so although our love for this perfect cat was pure, it was young. Now, with the fullness of time, we have learned so much about Tink’s personality and habits. Some things haven’t changed. For example, in the last post I waxed on about how much she loves windows. She still loves windows! Her usual habit these days is right after breakfast she hops up onto the windowsill in our bedroom (pictured below, the one above is the office) to watch the birds out there. That is the prime bird-watching location because there is a tree underneath and so there are lots of birds to watch. Having been inspired by none other than the New York Times, we occasionally put cat TV on for her, which she seems to appreciate. The advantage of cat TV is she can watch it from the couch instead of the hard windowsill. She still prefers the windowsill, and gets grumpy if we fail to open the blinds for her, but it’s nice that there are options.

Another thing we’ve done for her is get her some cat grass. She quickly got into the habit of nibbling on every plant in the house, despite the fact that nearly every plant in the house was not good for her. We told her this, but we all know how 6-year-olds can be. So we grew some cat grass and she loves to munch down on that, especially when (in her opinion) dinner is late. She is fed at 7 and 7 every day and so at about 4 in the afternoon she starts making sure to remind us that dinner is in only three hours. To satiate her rapidly diminishing form, she’ll turn to the grass.

Of course we must remember that she is correct and she needs lots of nourishment. This is because she works hard every day. Her rent is only $50 a month but between you and me she has yet to earn it. This is despite all the time she spends on the laptop typing out emails or whatever else it is that working people do. She makes up for it instead by prowling around the apartment ensuring that all is well and that we don’t have to worry about everything, demonstrating her fierce capability to protect us by chasing down toys. She finds the ones with feathers to be particularly vicious and so takes extra delight in demonstrating to us how she would take them down if they ever posed a more substantial threat.

She’s not all work however. Tink knows the value of excellent work-life balance and pursuing hobbies. Here she is napping in her bag full of sewing and knitting projects. She hasn’t made much progress on them because being a cat she doesn’t fundamentally understand clothing, but she is getting there and we make sure to encourage her by petting her and giving her scratches on her perfect little head, the sweet baby angel she is.

One place Tink has made a lot of progress is in becoming a lap cat. Tink, who I will remind you is perfect, is not the world’s most cuddly cat. She enjoys the new perspective on the world getting picked up brings, but once she has verified that all the books in the bookshelf are still in place and there is still no likely way she is going to be able to get up there, she is ready to be put down. However, she has warmed up to the notion of cuddles. You will remember from the last blog post that she liked sitting on pillows. If you make yourself particularly pillow-like, she is, on occasion, willing to climb on top of you and knead you a bit and, if you are very very lucky, settle in. A good alternative to this process we have come up with is to lay down next to her and act like it was her idea the whole time to cuddle. If you catch her in the right mood, she’s delighted to play along:

And with that is my latest update on Tink for you all. We love her very much and miss her whenever we leave the apartment, which still isn’t much frankly, so that isn’t a huge problem for us yet. Though if work ever starts making us come in we might just have to quit our jobs and go live in a cabin in the woods or something just so we can make sure to keep Tink company. She’s worth it.

Ploob

Reading this week:

  • Strategies of Slaves & Women by Marcia Wright
  • Why Buildings Fall Down by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori

As I have referenced elsewhere on this blog, I went to the U.S. Naval Academy. The Academy is a strange and wonderful place, and during my time there I wound up in charge of The LOG magazine. The LOG is a weird little institution. It is at this point over a century old, and a very strange fit for a place like the Naval Academy. It’s a humor magazine, and humor is always at least a little subversive, and it is weird to have a subversive institution at the Naval Academy. When I was in charge, at least, people always wanted us to Fight for the Users, as it were, be underground, stick it to the man, etc., and then I had to explain that we were in fact funded by the Naval Academy and I had to run all the jokes by the Commandant before publication.

I wound up in charge of The LOG mostly by virtue of having shown up to all the meetings and also submitting my articles by the deadline. As I learned when I was in charge of the thing, these are rare and valuable traits in midshipmen (this is not really a dig; midshipmen were busy with academics and stuff all the time and my only real skill in this area was a strong ethic of avoiding work), and so I became the anointed successor. I did not do a good job! I have reflected long and hard on my failings and I learned a lot from the experience, which is actually the point of every Naval Academy experience, so maybe I was in some way very successful. But a positive trait I will grant myself here is a passion for the institution and history of The LOG.

One of my favorite things to do between classes when, again, I was avoiding work, was to go to Nimitz Library and peruse old copies of The LOG, every one of which (except for a banned one) they had on file. This is a remarkable little window into Naval Academy life because who are we truly, as a society, but our jokes? Reading old copies of The LOG was really the quickest way to get into the minds of all the midshipmen that had come before you and realize they also complained about the food.

One time I had just sent to the printers an issue which included a cartoon of a laundry machine. At the Academy you sent your laundry out to be done by the Academy’s central laundry service (in my day they also had washing machines you could use, or people brought it all home on Christmas vacation to ask their mothers to do it). The cartoon was the imagined machine that did the laundry, replete with stations that added weird stains to your shirts, poked holes in your socks, lost your underwear, and returned to you someone else’s laundry entirely. After hitting send that day I walked over to the library and, I swear, picked a random issue of The LOG off the shelf, opened up to a random page, and discovered, right there in an issue dating from the 1950s or so a cartoon of the machines in the laundry service that added weird stains to your shirts, poked holes in your socks, lost your underwear, and then returned to you someone else’s laundry entirely. Clearly, nothing ever really changed.

Which brings us to Ploob! While my super amazing girlfriend and I were in Charlottesville one of our many activities was visiting used bookstores, which is where I found this particular gem. Despite my recently professed expertise in all things The LOG, I was unfamiliar with the character of Ploob. I will quote from the book:

The character of Ploob was originated by Midshipman Thomas A. Hamil of the Class of 1952. While still a Plebe himself, Hamil found time to laugh at some of the problems with which he was confronted. Taking out his pen, he rapidly sketched a ‘typical’ Fourth Classman in the meshes of ‘the System’ which baffles many and yet has so successfully indoctrinated young men from all walks of life into the intricacies of Navy procedure. Hamil sent his sketches to the undergraduate bi-weekly [Ed note: in my day it was monthly at best] publication of the Academy, ‘The LOG.’

The character continued after Hamil graduated and the book I picked up is a collection of those cartoons up through approximately 1957, when it was published. When I spotted this book I immediately knew I had to have it for the fun artifact it was, a window into the Naval Academy of the 1950s and also the Naval Academy of forever and always. And so I wanted to present to you, dear readers, some of my favorite cartoons from the book, first ones that struck me particularly and then a bunch more presented as a gallery:

This cartoon I liked because it is a prescient prediction of my mom giving me this same advice and me taking it just as seriously as Ploob.
This one I like because the goat is cute.
This one I like because I was a chemistry major.
And this one I like because it shows how things HAVE changed. Or so I hear. My plebe company gave an upper classman the brick while I was there. The ritual is like this: a Midshipman is spotted going home with a woman who has been deemed ‘ugly,’ i.e. a ‘brick.’ The plebes then, in our case bedecked in our hoodies and sweatpants and with a lot of chanting and suspense, throw said upperclassman into their shower along with the brick and turn it on, much to their embarrassment and frankly to the embarrassment of society as a whole who should have moved on from this sexist bullshit by now (at the time I thought it was quite a lot of fun). When I went to the Naval Academy it was about 15% women, but now it is a whopping 30% women, and I am told the sexism has died down a LOT. I’ll be happy when we get it to about 85% women. Honestly, crewing a ship doesn’t typically require a lot of upper body strength, and most of the women I went to the Academy with could kick my ass anyways.

And now the rest (I could go on about each and every one of them but suffice it to say that each one captures the Naval Academy experience perfectly and timelessly):

Annie B. Hore

On the left is Annie from the frontispiece of her book (published 1886), while on the right is a picture c. 1881 from Meyer Family memorabilia, published in an article by Dr. G. Rex Meyer.

Reading this week:

  • Tanganyika: Eleven Years in Central Africa by Edward Coode Hore
  • The Road to Tanganyika edited by James McCarthy
  • Brazza, A Life for Africa by Maria Petringa

One of the interesting parts lately of transcribing the Chronicle is going through the book reviews. It was here I discovered the existence of the book To Lake Tanganyika in a Bath Chair, written by one Annie B. Hore.

I had not given a whole lot of thought to Annie until this point, and that is really an unforgiveable and glaring oversight on my part. She was born on April 8th, 1853 as Annie Boyle Gribbon, the daughter of a prosperous merchant. Annie enters our narrative when she married Edward Coode Hore on March 29th, 1881, while he was on his first home leave after becoming a missionary on the London Missionary Society’s Central African Mission.

I have been trying to dig up information on Annie and besides what I get from the Chronicle, a lot of what I will present here is from a thorough biography of Captain Hore written by Dr. G. Rex Meyer and published in Church Heritage. Dr. Meyer is first cousin twice removed of Annie. It was of course very foolish of me to overlook Annie because she does of course pop up all the time in the Chronicle, albeit it only ever as “Mrs. Hore.”

She was a remarkable woman. This was of course 1881 in Victorian-era England, and if you were a vibrant, outgoing woman and dedicated Christian and wanted to see the world and spread the message of Jesus you were pretty much out of luck, unless you got yourself married to a missionary (I am ignoring the moral quandary of missionary work here). As she says in her writing, she married Edward not in spite of his missionary work but as an enthusiastic partner of it. And so, eleven months after they were married she gave birth to their son Jack (February 1882), and five months after that (July 1882) she found boarded along with her husband and infant son the steamer Quetta bound for Zanzibar.

The act of getting from England to Lake Tanganyika is the story that comprises her book, To Lake Tanganyika in a Bath Chair (a “bath chair” here is like a wheelchair). It was not easy! They started one overland caravan but had to turn back when Annie got sick. She returned to England and then the next time she tried to go to the Lake it was via Lake Malawi (then Nyasa). They had to turn back from that due to fighting along the route, and so they began once again on the overland route. The wheels of the bath chair were not very effective, so it was essentially converted to a palanquin, and it was on the shoulders of 16 porters (though only two at once) that she travelled to Lake Tanganyika, becoming the first European woman to do so. She also thus became the first woman to join the Central African mission and started their first school, a school for girls.

I very much recommend a read of Annie’s book. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to find. Unlike her husband’s book it only received a single edition. However, thanks once again to the Yale Library, I was able to obtain a copy and spent two who days transcribing it for the benefit of the internet and the world. Please find it below. I think the book is very witty, and Edward claiming that they should just get a move on down the road is channeling the exact same energy my dad has whenever he is on a roadtrip. It is also a unique look into fairly early European travel into Africa from the perspective of someone who is not a militaristic white dude. (When the Chronicle reviewed her book in January 1887, they overall recommended it, but noted that the introduction and conclusion by “E.W.” “does not add much to the value of the book, and is disfigured by some glaring inaccuracies,” which is true, but also that “the portraits of Mrs. Hore and ‘Jack’ are not pleasing likenesses, which is whack and shows the value of certain kinds of people’s opinions.)

Annie’s route, included in her book.

Once in place on Kavala Island, Annie threw herself into missionary work and excelled at it. It was a little slow going as first, as she and Jack were recovering from illness, but she soon started a school for girls, which in turn inspired Edward to finally start a school for boys. From Edward himself: “I may say I have worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., for months past, and it is certainly as master of works that I have gained [Chief] Kavala’s admiration; but the center and strength of our powerful influence doubtless lay in the arrival and presence of my wife and child, and its resulting details in Mrs. Hore’s girls’ school.”

The Hores returned to England from Central Africa for the last time in October 1888. When I read the Chronicle I am astonished that the missionaries would take their children into Central Africa, given the high mortality rate of missionaries there. But for the Hores, although their son Jack survived the rigors of caravan travel and spent his childhood on Kavala Island, it was upon their return to England that he fell ill and died in London in April of 1889. According to deceasedonline.com, he is buried in Camden (search “Hore” and “1889”).

In August of 1890, however, Annie gave birth to a daughter, Joan, and in 1894 the Hores moved to Australia where Edward continued to work for the London Missionary Society for a time. Annie had relatives in Australia, and in his article Dr. Meyer notes that “[Edward] was dour, grey and humorless; a personality in sharp contrast to that of his wife Annie who, while a devout Christian, had a great sense of humor and an ebullient personality and who was loved and admired by all who knew her. When Edward and Annie Hore visited the Meyer [Annie’s cousins] family in Sydney, which they did frequently after 1890, Edward, with his difficult personality, was ‘tolerated’ for the sake of his wife, who was popular and always welcomed.” Dr. Meyer also notes that, in helping fundraise for the Society, Annie’s “contributions were extensive and greatly appreciated… Annie Hore conducted many meetings and gave informal talks, mainly to women’s groups.”

When Edward finally left the Society for good, they settled in Tasmania where they ran a small farm. This farm, again according to Dr. Meyer, was not successful for a long time, but eventually matured into a productive if modest estate and when they sold it provided sufficient funds for a final retirement. Annie and Edward were respected members of the community. After suffering a stroke, however, Edward died in 1912. Annie outlived him by four days short of ten years, with both buried in the Cornelian Bay Cemetery in Hobart, Tasmania. Her epitaph reads “Missionary.”

Notes on this transcription: I have made some effort to proofread this transcription. However, I have maintained several of the book’s typos while contributing some of my own, and which is which is an exercise for the reader. I have included the best scans I could of Annie’s portrait, Jack’s portrait, and the map of her route. The book includes a map of Lake Tanganyika which is the same map prepared by Captain Hore that can be found in a variety of places, including here. I have also tried to put the pdf together in a fairly pleasing way but there was only so far I was able to go.

Book Review: Steam and Quinine

Reading this week:

  • Gravel Heart by Abdulrazak Gurnah

We’re going to venture into all new territory for this blog and do a book review. The book in question is timely and relevant to our discussions here on this blog, which as my myriad loyal readers are aware has lately (though unlikely permanently) become more and more focused on the activities of the London Missionary Society in Central Africa. I promise I have other interests, which have also been documented on this blog, but it is winter and I am a working professional man now and Tim Harford tells me it is good to have serious hobbies so here we are.

One of the things I like about reading into the history of the London Missionary Society and especially the history of their steamer the Good News is that there is not a lot of competition in the space. There are a few other people I have found who have looked into all this which makes it interesting but it’s not like it takes all that much research to rocket to the top echelons of the field. However, the other edge of this sword is that it can make it difficult to access research items. One such item is the subject of today’s book review: Steam and Quinine on Africa’s Great Lakes: The story of the steamers white and gold on Africa’s inland waters by David Reynolds, with illustrations by Keith Watts Thomas.

Given the overall lack of interest in the topic, it is a little stunning that two books were published detailing the lake steamers of Africa in close order, namely The Lake Steamers of East Africa by L.G. Bill Dennis in 1996, and Steam and Quinine in 1997. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that either book got a second edition, and although there are copies of Steam and Quinine on sale for $60ish, I haven’t been able to find a copy of Lake Steamers except over in the Library of Congress. Fortunately for us, however, the Yale University Library is still willing to mail me books, which is how I got my grubby little hands on a copy of Steam and Quinine for us to peruse.

This book is clearly a work of passion for our friend David Reynolds. His biography on the back reveals he “was born to missionary parents near the shores of Lake Victoria in 1932” and completed his education in South Africa. This was his third book about African boats, the first being A Century of South African Steam Tugs (which apparently got three (!) editions) and Kenneth D. Shoesmith and Royal Mail, Royal Mail being a shipping line. This is clearly a man after my own heart, when it comes to steamships at any rate.

Although my specific interest in this book are the boats of Lake Tanganyika, and even more specifically as mentioned the Good News, he covers all the great lakes (Nyasa/Malawi, Tanganyika, Kivu, Albert, Victoria, and the honestly not-so-great Kioga) in a northward fashion. My expertise in this area is targeted, but I haven’t spotted any steamships (or some motor ships) that he missed, making this a very comprehensive review of steam navigation on the African Great Lakes. He does, however, devote more space attention to the boats that pique his personal interest, but honestly what is the point of being passionate about something if you’re not going to devote way too much space to it? *cough* this whole blog *cough*

But let’s circle back to my specific interest, the Good News. Honestly I gotta say this section does not come through shining. I think we’re both partisans here, but I am a much bigger fan (or devotee anyways) of Edward C. Hore than he is. Mr. Reynolds spends a good chunk of time maligning Captain Hore’s character, ending his biography with the note that Hore “died, impoverished and institutionalized, in Tasmania.” According to research published by Dr. G. Rex Meyer (kindly provided to me by the former editor of the unfortunately defunct Church Heritage journal), the only part of that sentence that is true is that he a) died b) in Tasmania, which for me throws much doubt onto his scholarship overall.

Although a feature of the book are paintings of several of the ships by Keith Watts Thomas, the book is also illustrated with sketches by David Reynolds. One of these sketches is of the Good News, included above. I have another nit-pick here. In his sketch, the ship is depicted with a sort of wheelhouse on top of the main cabin. Being as there are a limited number of pictures of the Good News and I have tried hard to see all of them, I think you, the reader, will agree with me that the sketch is derived from the below picture of the Good News in drydock. The ship that Mr. Reynolds has sketched does not match the layout of the real ship at all, which again puts me in fear for his scholarship, on my favorite boat anyways. The below picture isn’t perfect and shows a Good News under repair (for example, it is missing the booms and funnel), but I have also included below an engraving of the Good News under steam from Captain Hore’s book, Tanganyika: Eleven Years in Central Africa, which still doesn’t match the sketch.

Putative source of David Reynold’s sketch
Engraving of the Good News under steam.

I will try to avoid being entirely whiney here but noting that I did learn something intriguing about the eventual fate of the Toutou of Battle of Lake Tanganyika fame. This tidbit is hidden away in the section on the Graf von Goetzen / Liemba:

The Fifi, considered unserviceable, was towed out onto the lake and sunk in deep water on October 19, 1924. She went down with flags flying and all honours. The Toutou did not last long on the lake. She was transferred to Cape Town and could be seen in the Victoria docks with a brightly polished plate in her cockpit which read: ‘This launch served in the East African Campaign as an armed cruiser. Captured and sank three German gunboats with assistance of her sister launch, Mi Mi.’

This means now I gotta get my butt to Cape Town and see if she isn’t still there. Or better yet, anyone in Cape Town already?

Sketch of the Mimi by David Reynolds, along with the source image, below.

All in all if you want to get one book on the steamships that plied the African great lakes, honestly I’m not sure what book to recommend because there are astonishingly two and I haven’t read the other one. Though then again only one of them appears to actually be available. Though then again again the available one is like $60 and I’m not sure I can recommend it at that price. Then again again again they aren’t making more. I don’t know. It was at times a tedious and at times a very entertaining read, and as I said at the top a lot of passion went into it. I guess to conclude, please enjoy this final image I extracted from the book, the masthead of the African Lakes Corporation:

The Chronicle, 1886-1890

Reading this week:

  • The Last Gift by Abdulrazak Gurnah

In the unsustainably short interval of only five weeks, I am once again pleased to announce the third part of my ongoing project to transcribe every article in The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society relating to their Central Africa mission. The interval was so short because it has been a very slow period at work, but also because this is a teeny-tiny update, at a mere 38,000 words. I was wondering if this update would put the totals for this project above the 200,000 word mark, but it was not to be.

In this third semi-decade of the Central Africa Mission’s existence, it seems to be gaining a very different character. The reporting on the Mission in the Chronicle really took a nosedive. Part of the reason for that is fighting in the area cutting off the mails and therefore communication with the mission, so the Chronicle was forced to just give mild speculation based on rumors they had heard with no actual information. But I think a much bigger reason is that the Mission had simply become just another mission.

By this point they were fairly well established in Central Africa. They had four main stations – Urambo, their first permanent station; Kavala Island, where they had set up their marine department when it was clear they were unwelcome in Ujiji; Niamkolo (spelled Niumkorlo during these years) to get a presence at the south end of the lake; and Fwambo, a newly established mission “fifty miles inland on the route to Lake Nyassa” (I think this is now Kawimbe Mission, but I am not sure). The routes to these stations were well-established, the mail fairly regular (when there wasn’t fighting), and the Missionaries were spending their time building their infrastructure and their trust with the local communities. This is not the exciting part of missionary work. If there was exciting stuff, it wasn’t actually reported in the Chronicle – often the editor notes that urgent news had been reported in the daily papers, and in this magazine they were then just noting that all had turned out well (or not).

The Mission also starts to be swept up in world events. In 1876 they were some of the only Europeans in the area, but by 1890 colonization is starting to firmly take hold. Part of the reason for the fighting that cut off the mails is that the Germans were attempting to take hold of what would become German East Africa, and the native peoples were fighting back. Then in March of 1890 the Chronicle is reporting on a speech from the Duke of Fife where he discusses the recently founded British South Africa Company. And in December of 1890 they even note that Urambo is likely to be made a military station. The London Missionary Society in 1890 is no longer the vanguard of the European takeover in the Tanganyika region.

For our interests here in this blog there are a few other developments. This era is when James Hemans heads to the mission. On the other hand, our man Ed Hore has left the mission, with the latest news that he has gone on a tour of the Society’s missions around Australia. His wife, Annie Hore, was left in London to give birth to their daughter. Annie had been the first woman sent out to Central Africa by the Society and founded the Mission’s first school, the Kavala Island Girls’ School pictured above. While she was the first, in this era it is now becoming common for men to go out with their wives, a further signal that Central Africa was no longer the wild domain of only people like Livingstone and Stanley, as far as Europe was concerned.

Although the London Missionary Society might have felt that Central Africa was no longer so dangerous, with family life taking hold in the Mission comes the normal tragedies of everyday existence. In June 1889’s “Announcements” they report under Births: “Jones – November 16th, at Fwambo, Central Africa, the wife of the Rev. D.P. Jones, of a son.” Then, on the very next line under Deaths: “Jones – December 26th, at Fwambo, Central Africa, the infant son of the Rev. D.P. Jones, aged 6 weeks.”

As ever, if you find this work useful, please let me know. I’d be excited to collaborate.

Dumbarton Oaks

I forgot to take a context photo once again, so this is thanks to Wikipedia. We never saw this view, having scuttled in from the street entrance.

Reading this week:

  • Steam and Quinine on Africa’s Great Lakes by David Reynolds

The other day, in our continuing efforts to visit every museum in DC, my super amazing girlfriend and I set out to explore Dumbarton Oaks! Remember when Harry and Meghan turned down “Earl of Dumbarton” for their son? Anyways off we went!

Except we didn’t go there first. My super amazing girlfriend is very sensibly into teahouses, and so our first stop for both tea and lunch was Ching Ching Cha which I recommend you go to because it comes highly recommended by both me and my super amazing girlfriend. They have a wide variety of teas available. I went with a black tea while she went with I think a hibiscus tea. Below you can see a picture of me looking at the tea, appreciating its terroir and stuff before sipping it down. I followed the tea with a delicious egg custard. All in all an A+ experience.

Sated and energized, we went off to Dumbarton Oaks. We had timed tickets and they mean it there. We tried to sneak in about 30 minutes early but a much harried woman was guarding the desk and making sure everyone followed COVID protocols, which I appreciate. I hope she is paid well. After a short jaunt to a flea market we finally got in.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Dumbarton Oaks. I don’t tend to like, read ahead on these things, so I enter wide-eyed and impressionable. The impression I got was that man, it seems like it would have been fun to be a rich person in the early 20th century going around just buying up people’s cultural heritage and not being worried about it at all.

Icon of St. John Chrysostom

I can direct you to the webpage for the History of Dumbarton Oaks, where you can learn that the museum was the result of the collecting efforts of Robert and Mildred Bliss. A fun fact I learned from that webpage is that Robert and Mildred met because their parents married each other; Mildred’s mom married Robert’s dad. Interesting! Robert was a diplomat and it was apparently in Paris that they caught the aforementioned bug of buying up cultural heritage. They wound up specifically interested in Byzantine artifacts and also pre-Columbian artifacts from the Americas. We couldn’t figure out and I haven’t found why they were interested in those two topics in particular.

I know I have already brought it up twice but what I am trying to get to here is that this place gave me an especially weird feeling of like, wow this is a bunch of other people’s stuff just sitting here in Georgetown for some reason. This is an unfair criticism of this museum in particular because I realize this is in many ways just sort of what museums do, a fact which has not stopped me from going, again as discussed, to as many museums as possible. But something about this one just drove that home. Maybe it was because it is so explicitly a museum designed around two people’s particular and unrelated interests. Or maybe it is because of the two sarcophagi they had next to each other, both of which lacked any particular explanation of what happened to the dead dudes previously using them:

Top: “Sarcophagus with Architectural and Apotropaic Imagery,” Bottom: “Seasons Sarcophagus

I hope those dead guys are okay besides, you know, being dead. I know I am being negative about this museum so far but there was a lot to like. I haven’t particularly ever been into the Byzantines at all so I didn’t really know how to process the artifacts they had on display but there was some really cool stuff. The first artifact pictured, the icon, is a mini-mosaic and is maybe the size of a hand, so all those little tiles it is made of are in fact very tiny. Impressive! They have a huge collection of Byzantine seals, which they use to tell the story of the Byzantine empire in a compelling way, showing how the events going on in the Byzantine world are reflected in the seals used to uh seal official communications. I have also been shitting on the Blisses for buying up people’s cultural heritage, but if you go to the linked pages about the different artifacts they have fairly detailed acquisition histories and they bought I think all of this stuff from dealers and the like, so they are not directly responsible for the pilfering. Except of course for the mosaics on the floors they repurposed from millennia-old archaeological sites via digs they sponsored. Anyways!

Besides their Byzantine artifacts, they also have a huge collection of pre-Columbian artifacts from the Americas. These are housed in a more modern wing of the complex which is a beautiful architectural complex comprised of circular rooms lined with glass, centered on a fountain and placed within the gorgeous Dumbarton Oaks gardens which we didn’t get to explore on this trip. It’s a peaceful and very different sort of setting and we both liked it a lot. It was against this background that we looked at the artifacts and wondered how they got here.

To make one final complaint, we were left unsatisfied with the way these objects were presented. Part of the reason the Blisses were interested in these objects were because they considered them and wanted others to consider them art pieces, instead of just maybe historical artifacts. I do like appreciating these pieces as art and thinking about the artists and their lives that were so very different from my own, but my super amazing girlfriend and I both wished there was more context or something that we couldn’t put our fingers on to explain these objects. For example, I wanted to know in what context they were found; it would have been edifying to learn if these objects had been found in graves or buried in foundations or just found in the ground somewhere. We appreciated the art of these objects but more explanation of their symbolism or meaning would have been useful too. Of course, considering the provenance of these things maybe they just don’t know.

I don’t have an excellent conclusion here. The Dumbarton Oaks Museum is not particularly large, but it has a very interesting array of artifacts, especially if you are into the Byzantine empire. Since these objects are there, I recommend that you go and look at them and appreciate them for what they are. But it was just that something about the whole museum left me feeling unsatisfied about how these objects got here, or maybe how to appreciate them, or maybe something deeper and more fundamental. But also wow this necklace is an astounding display of craftsmanship:

Gold Skull Necklace

Montpelier

Reading this week:

  • To Lake Tanganyika in a Bath Chair by Annie B. Hore

After an extremely good weekend full of poffles and yarn and books and excellent times and of course presidential sites, we rounded out our journey with a trip to James Madison’s Montpelier.

As much of the weekend had been it was cloudy when we arrived and some rain was just thinking of clearing up, but the entrance to Montpelier is meant to impress and does. As you enter the gate you drive through some shallow rolling hills across massive fields of a massive estate. The weather meant it was quiet and we saw deer grazing across the road from a full-sized horse track as we made our way to the visitor’s center. Popping out of the DeLorean in the nearly empty car park, I quipped “busy day” to the only other woman around, who replied with the remarkable comment “you know I only ever met John DeLorean once – and helped his wife over a fence.”

Our guided tour of the house and grounds was once again fantastic. We had one other person join us, and our tour was given by a member of the estate’s board and part of the conservation team, so she was extremely knowledgeable. The estate had been in the hands of several generations of Madisons and she walked us through that history and how it was intertwined with the Virginia tobacco trade, first near the coast and then migrating to the Piedmont. Much like Highland, I think a lot of what was most interesting about Montpelier was the history of the estate itself as an historic site. Again like Highland, it has only been in the past five years or so that they have restored the house to something like Madison would have known and done the archeology to establish the history of all the people who lived there.

Our guide contrasted that to someplace like Mt. Vernon, which has been a historic site catering to visitors since 1853. Since our tour guide was on the board, we got to learn a lot about how they choose which artifacts to put in the building and where they get them, and a lot of what I was thinking about was the historiography. I extracted myself from that line of thinking for long enough, however, to pause in Madison’s study, the room where he did so much research on the nature of freedom and confederations while overlooking his land worked by people he enslaved.

Much like Highland, the story of slavery at Montpelier felt a little tacked on, though with a significantly better budget. They have an award-winning exhibition on slavery at Montpelier, awkwardly tucked into the cellar. The exhibit was brutal and honest and enlightening, but was a thing to do after the tour proper. They have also reconstructed a number of dwellings for enslaved persons and other plantation buildings on the south yard. Here the story of slavery on the plantation continues, and maybe I am an old fogey but I wondered if there was too much attention to the flash instead of substance. But overall it was good and honest.

The most recent owners of the estate were the DuPont family, and a great deal of the modern appearance is due to them. Marion Scott, née DuPont was the last heir to the estate, and loved horses, so the horse track was her doing. She is also responsible for the formal garden on the grounds, which in Madison’s day was a vegetable garden and orchard. The formal garden was nice, but I am much more a sucker for a vegetable garden and orchard. You add a fish pond to the mix and I go absolutely gaga. Much like Highland the estate has extensive, miles-long trails, and apparently a wonderful old-growth forest, but our clothing did not quite match the weather so we didn’t wind up taking advantage of it.

I am sitting here trying to reflect on what I learned about Madison by coming here. I learned a lot about his family history. He was definitely born into privilege and which afforded him the opportunity to go to the University of New Jersey, ie Princeton. Our tour guide compared that, however, to Berkeley in ’69 which is a useful perspective. I still wonder at revolutionaries – many people think they dream big, but how many people dream big enough to start a whole new country? But I think it is easier to dream big when you are already safe and secure. By that measure, a man like Madison, secure for generations nestled in the Virginia foothills and living off the labor of generations enslaved workers, would have been able to dream big indeed.

Second dead president in three days.

Highland

Reading this week:

  • The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa

Second on our tour of presidential sites in the greater Charlottesville area was Highland, the home of James Monroe!

I arrived at Highland in a terrible mood because the DeLorean betrayed me and wouldn’t start, so we had to take an Uber there. But we had the place almost entirely to ourselves and the staff was all extremely friendly (the kind of friendly you get when you are there to talk to tourists and there are nearly no tourists to talk to) and although it was cloudy it was fairly warm and it is a gorgeous area nestled there in the uh highlands of the Virginia piedmont.

Although we were at Highland for James Monroe there is not really a whole lot of James Monroe there. Our most famous presidential doctrinaire bought the place I think because owning a plantation was the hip thing to do if you are an up and coming 18th century Virginian, and he bought this particular plot because his bff Jefferson was next door. There are three buildings at the site that are contemporary to James Monroe, and that does not include his house. The contemporary buildings are two rooms of a guest house he had built (the backside of the white building in the photo at the top) along with an overseer’s house and a smokehouse which I was disappointed to find had its door closed and locked so I couldn’t see if they had fake hams hanging up.

Once you poke around the grounds you can go into the guest house, which is connected to a larger yellow house and contains (I guess I should say houses) a museum to the plantation and James Monroe. It is quaint and I feel like they must feel like they’re in competition with the James Monroe Museum for James Monroe primacy. Nonetheless I learned a few things, like the fact that Monroe is the dude behind Washington in “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” They focus a lot on his foreign policy work and credentials, which is close to both my heart and my super amazing girlfriend’s, so that was interesting to read about. They have a number of James Monroe artifacts and I am certain that for all James Monroeifiles it is a must-visit.

Probably the most interesting thing about the site was sort of the history of the museum. Apparently for a long time they thought that the yellow house in the photo above was Monroe’s. It was only recently they figured out it wasn’t and that the original house had burned down shortly after Monroe died and his heirs had to sell the place to pay off Monroe’s debts. And then it was only about five years ago that they did some archeology and found the foundations of Monroe’s actual house, which are now outlined in the stones in the above photo. Pretty stunning that they’re still only just figuring out what his house actually looked like.

Overall the place had kind of a weird vibe, as in when you go to Washington’s place they’re like “a Great Man lived here” but Monroe’s place feels like the house of someone I could know. That’s not crazy, because most of the buildings on the site were built in the late 1800s, and even in New Haven there were plenty of antebellum buildings in the neighborhood I lived in, and those were occupied by grad students. If Highland has a major advantage over the other two presidential sites we went to, it was probably the sheep, which were very cute.

I praised Monticello for how they addressed slavery, and although Highland didn’t do a bad job it felt a little tacked on. I suspect it is because the place isn’t running on a massive budget and not only lacks the detailed records that Jefferson left behind but even if they had those they probably lack the resources to put up interactive displays or the like. Still, they name names where they can and make sure to not try to excuse or sweep under the rug Monroe’s status as an enslaver.

Overall I think we spent about an hour at Highland. If we had known and prepared better we probably could have taken advantage of the trails on the property, which extend into the woods and I am sure would have been quite beautiful. As it was we spent some time wandering around outside and pondering the balance between expansive foreign policy and being nestled into rolling foothills. Then we called an Uber (talk about labor relationships) and hit up a yarn store.